Imagined Cityscapes

Sydney-born, LA-based photographer George Byrne (b. 1976) is known for capturing abstracted Californian landscapes – pastel-drenched scenes filled with palm trees and minimal architecture. He created the works in his new series, INNERVISIONS, by merging shots of different places together. Byrne tells us how the pandemic inspired this new mode of image-making, which has resulted in his latest exhibition at Olsen Gallery, Sydney.

A: You produced this new body of work during the lockdowns of 2020. What has your experience of the pandemic been like? What impact has it had on you creatively?
I’ve had my ups and downs throughout this whole period. At first the pandemic was a strange novelty, then it got scary and frustrating and then sad. LA was hit badly and – like many places – it was like living through a type of snap economic recession or depression. I will never forget the strange feeling in the air, it was palpable. Everyone was shell shocked. Homelessness exploded and people were getting sick all around us and friends lost family members. Many people lost their jobs and moved back to their home states and cities, it felt like a societal freefall. My girlfriend and I both avoided getting sick and were lucky to be able to ride it out, mainly at home. Prior to the pandemic, I’d actually cleared 2020 to release my book and concentrate on making new work so I was able to keep on going to the studio as normal. But even though I was able to work and get around, I felt way less inclined to go out and shoot so I ended up doing a big inventory on the images I’d already shot and decided to approach this next series as an opportunity to try a different technical and conceptual approach.

A: This work is “semi-fictional” – created by splicing analogue and digital images. What prompted you to work in this way? Can you give us an insight into the process?
My inclination towards manipulating images and later using collage came initially through a desire to make very minor adjustments. Then, through a series of accidents, experimentation and repetition, I broke through a creative wall that would allow me to essentially create landscapes as opposed to just recording them. This process was key, as it unlocked my interest in painting and drawing and allowed me to tap more into that more expressive part of my brain, and essentially meld the two mediums. The actual making of the images is a very inexact science. To prepare for a show I usually immerse myself in every single image of interest that I have, and marinade in them for weeks and months, looking for links. I’ll start with maybe 50-100 images and slowly whittle it down. Some finished pictures take half an hour to realise and others take years for me to see.

A: The title – INNERVISIONS – suggests something private, although exterior spaces appear often in the series. Is this a comment on the way that each person encounters places differently, subjectively, as well as the imaginative possibilities of image-making?
Yes I think that’s a really good way of thinking about it. The way we see is always really our own, there is no Being John Malkovich style way of entering another person’s view of the physical world. The show is really about looking inward for inspiration but using the real world as your palette. I chose the term INNERVISIONS as the working title for the show in September 2020 when Los Angeles was deep in lockdown and I was spending long days at my studio on my own, banging my head against the wall trying to think of what I could do. As I started to work on images, the term just popped into my head as an accurate feeling for what I was aiming for in the work. These are supposed to be blissfully choreographed depictions of reality. And with this series in particular I’m tapping into themes of utopia and idealism.

A: Even though this is a departure for you in a way, it still has that distinctive sensibility – the pastel colour palette, clean lines… How did you develop your style?
My style and aesthetic reflects my own personal tastes, interests and instincts. I see a whole bunch of influences in my works from other photographers like Lewis Baltz and Grant Mudford to painters like Patricia Treib, Richard Deibenkorn and Jeffrey Smart. I think the biggest single thing that allowed me to land on this style was moving to LA and having a near epiphany with the landscape. I was so completely fascinated with the place that I couldn’t stop taking photos. I guess once you have your muse things tend to fall into place.

A: What are you working on next? Will you keep experimenting with constructed imagery?
I think I will continue to push into this space to some degree. I also have some ideas for 3D sculptural renderings of some of my images and I may have a go at a mural. We shall see!

INNERVISIONS runs from 27 October to 13 November at Olsen Gallery, Sydney.

Words: Rachel Segal Hamilton

All images courtesy George Byrne.
1. Yellow Door, 2021
2. Wall Detail #4, 2021
3. Lap Swimmer, 2021
4. Three Panels, Palm Springs, 2021
5. Innervisions, 2021
6. Wall Detail #3, 2021
7. Blue White Gallery, 2021